The hunt starts when around 18 couple, or 36 dogs- referred to as hounds- are
brought to the cover, that is: the woods, or any other place the fox may be hiding.
MARTHA WADSWORTH: You let the dogs in and they spread out, looking for the fox. One
of them maybe will speak. Speak is to "bark" to "give tongue". And then the other dogs
will come over to them. And if they have a line- a scent- they'll start hunting the fox.
And usually the fox will go around the cover a little bit, and break out. And that's when
you have a good run.
Throughout the hunt, the on-field leader, or huntsman, will blow various sequences on
a small silver and brass horn to control the hounds or change the direction and strategy
of the chase. Master and huntsman, Austin Wadsworth-
AUSTIN WADSWORTH: When the hounds actually get together and start pushing a fox and get
running on him, we use what's called "gone away" which is a combination of sounds. It
sounds like this- (blows horn)
The emphasis of the hunt is not the winning or losing, the catching or killing or
defeating of the fox. Rather, it's the excitement of the pursuit that keeps riders coming
back year after year. Martha says the old saying "smart as a fox" is clearly evident in
MARTHA WADSWORTH: They do all kinds of things to put the hounds off the scent For
instance, they'll run a line and they'll backtrack and turn quickly so the hounds will
overrun the line. They'll go over fields where they know the scent won't hold, like a
field that's been newly manuered, because they're a hunter themselves. They know where
the scent is good and where it's not good. And they run with the wind for instance.
Many followers of the hunt can recall occasions when the fox seemed to be out for a
good laugh. Like the time Martha watched the quarry criss-cross through a pair of wire
fences along a country road.
MARTHA WADSWORTH: And the fox asked all the way up the top of the fence. And at the top
he sat and watched the hounds going back and forth over the fence on his line. And many
times you'll see the fox stop and watch and listen. I've seen a fox running in the pack.
He came out of the corn and ran in the middle of the pack with all of the hounds, on his
own line. Then he turned and jumped off.
Fox hunters are quick to point out that hunt is not a cruel, endless nightmare for the
animal. Geneseo, New York's Louis Bailey first hunted in 1926, and now follows the
activity in his truck on hunting days. He says foxes like to run and will play with the
hounds all day long if they're in the mood.
BAILEY: It's a game with them, really. They can vanish if they really want to. And you
accidentally kill one in a couple of years and you're out three or four times a week all
fall.. there's not much cruelty. There's a lot more killed on the road with cars.
The truth is that foxes are rarely cornered. With a 40 miles per hour running speed,
they can easily keep a safe distance from the slower hounds. If a fox is surrounded, it's
usually because the animal is injured or diseased. In the past four years, the Genesee
Valley Hunt has caught just two foxes. And unlike in England, where possible getaway
holes are covered to ensure a fox's demise, Wadsworth says in the US there are plenty of
groundhog holes offering safety.
MARTHA WADSWORTH: And we figure that's a very good end to the hunt- better than killing
him. Because we have him to hunt another day and that's what we're trying to do, really.
The Genesee Valley Hunt will continue throughout December- and longer- if the Genesee
River remains unfrozen. Bill Flynn, WXXI 1370.